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The "Unstoppable Gay Jew"
June 7, 2012 6:30 PM   Subscribe

In 1971, "decades before any state had seriously considered legalizing gay marriage, long before anyone had thought of creating—never mind repealing—a policy called “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” before Reagan, before AIDS, before the American Psychiatric Association determined that homosexuality was not a mental illness, and before half the people currently living in America were even born, a man named John Singer stepped into the King County marriage license office in Seattle." Meet Faygele ben Miriam, the radical activist who pioneered the fight for same-sex marriage in Washington State, 41 years ago. Via.
posted by zarq (16 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, I had never heard of him. Thanks for posting.
posted by clockzero at 6:38 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're very welcome. Neither had I. Was floored by this article -- and love knowing that the person who denied Mr. Singer that marriage license back in '71, Lloyd Hara, is now an advocate for same sex marriage.
posted by zarq at 6:44 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had not heard of John Singer either, and embarrassed to say so. What huge balls he had.
posted by LarryC at 7:06 PM on June 7, 2012


I'd heard of John Singer, but hadn't really read much about him beyond the very basics. This is a great post, and I'm glad to have seen it.

There is someplace online (which I'm not finding right now, and which requires some kind of special video player download to watch it) footage of either the GLF or the GAA doing a sit-in at the NYC clerk office which issues marriage licenses in protest of them disallowing same sex marriage. I want to say it happened in either 1970 or 1971. It's pretty astounding footage, starts with film of a planning meeting, then moves into footage of the action, which involves a huge number of people, a wedding cake, and some very terrified looking office workers.

It's a shame that 1) I can't find this right now, and 2) it's locked up with some silly download (which is free, but annoying). It's really inspiring, or it was to me when I found it. But then, I find a lot of the pre-Ellen gay movement stuff really inspiring, especially stuff that was happening in the 1970s. Once the 80s hit, and HIV/AIDS became the main issue, the shift away from celebration and toward survival was a major thing which aborted a lot of the other things that were going on before that.
posted by hippybear at 7:15 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a Minnesota story as well. Jack Baker. May 18, 1968, before Stonewall.

The whole story. I can't even imagine demanding gay marriage in 1968.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:37 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Though Faygele’s friends and family don’t exactly agree on how his life ended, they are pretty much in accord when it comes to what he’d make of the current fight over gay marriage in Washington state—a fight that, at this point, even features Lloyd Hara, the man who back in 1970 refused Faygele a marriage license. Now the King County Assessor, Hara has become a champion of gay marriage, calling it “an overdue step to right an injustice,” and pointing out: “My eldest daughter is a lesbian and has been in a committed relationship with her partner for years.” He walked his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day in Vermont and hopes that soon “parents will be able to do that right here in Washington state.”

Hell of a life story. He was the change he wanted to see. Thanks, zarq.
posted by rtha at 7:38 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Er, I guess Baker's marriage application was in the 70s, but he had been an out activist since 68.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:40 PM on June 7, 2012


By Eli, even! I can't wait to read this. I heard something about this earlier this year, possibly on KUOW.
posted by mwhybark at 7:40 PM on June 7, 2012


What an incredible person! Thanks for the post Zarq :)
posted by persephone's rant at 7:43 PM on June 7, 2012


Would that we had more unstoppable Gay Jews.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:49 PM on June 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


And that's not all Faygele did! In 1972 he was fired from his federal job as a clerk/secretary for the Seattle office the EEOC for wearing skirts, blouses and heels on the job - mandated (ahem) business wear for women at the time. 6 years later his case for wrongful termination was upheld by the US Supreme Court. The ruling also ensured gender-neutral clothing regulations for most industries. Every time I wear a suit, pants, and tie on the job, I can thank him, though he hated such clothing himself. The back pay awarded him went towards buying a house that became an epicenter of LGBT and Radical Faerie organizing in Seattle. http://blog.seattlepi.com/thebigblog/files/library/gaywinssixyear.pdf
He was also a skilled Jewish baker (I learned to make both rugelach and bagels from hipm in his retirement). His untimely death from complications of HIV and drug use was an awful loss to the LGBTQ and activist world.
posted by Dreidl at 10:10 PM on June 7, 2012 [15 favorites]


Wow, that's an amazing story. Thanks for making this FPP; I had no idea that this was happening so early and in Washington. He sounds fascinating, though perhaps not always easy to live with:
Elizabeth Rae Larsen, now 71, remembered that when she was acting as the director of Seattle Counseling Services, which opened in 1969 and was the first gay- and lesbian-focused counseling center in the nation, Faygele arrived there to volunteer. One of her major jobs, she said, turned out to be “having to manage the energy, the thing that was Faygele, to keep everyone else from freaking out. Faygele was a very disruptive presence in any environment. He would actually wear dresses that were not as long as the end of his dong. I mean, come on, that’s asking a lot of your audience.”
It sounds, though, like he held himself to a pretty high standard politically. I think an awful lot of progressive successes in the 1970s can be credited to Jewish "red diaper babies" like Faygele:
In a videotaped 1995 interview, conducted as part of the research for Atkins’ book, Faygele himself—wearing Star of David earrings, a polo shirt, a necklace, several large rings on his fingers, and tan shorts with a braided belt—spoke in a lilting, slightly raspy voice about his political philosophy. “People need to stand up,” he said. “I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for people who complain and don’t do.”
posted by Forktine at 10:26 PM on June 7, 2012


What a great man. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by maxwelton at 10:58 PM on June 7, 2012


He sounds like an absolute dynamo. One thing from that very first paragraph stuck in my head though:

long before anyone had thought of creating—never mind repealing—a policy called “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,”

DADT was passed in 1993. It seems almost indicative of the change Singer was fighting for that, within a generation, something could go from WE MUST STOP THIS GAY FLOOD to "hold on, why do we need to do that again?"
posted by Panjandrum at 11:18 PM on June 7, 2012


Wonderful post, and a wonderful man. My favorite - and sorry for the length of the quote - is the end:

"He was always on the cutting edge. He could smell the cutting edge light-years before the general population, and usually before any of us. That’s where he shined.”

Faygele himself gave a hint of what he might think today. Asked during that 1995 interview whether he planned on leading another gay marriage lawsuit, he responded: “I personally wouldn’t. I would leave it to other people. I mean, there are people in committed relationships, who are open about it. It’s their turn.”

He continued: “Gay politics is not my only politics. It needs to align with other groups and overthrow the whole goddamn system. The system is set up not to work for minorities. It’s set up not even to work for most of the majority, but it buys them off by giving them some more privileges. It needs to work with racial and ethnic minorities, with any disenfranchised peoples. And it needs to get beyond being Democrat and Republican. I haven’t voted Democrat, I don’t think, ever, for president. Neither party is going to do what we need. They’re not going to bring about fundamental change, and that’s what we need to have. We need a society that really is going to include people on the basis of, ‘You exist, you have inherent worth because of it, and you have a right to live, you have a right to health care.’ I mean, AIDS is only one indication of how bad off we are. We’re the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have nationalized health care. We have an infant mortality rate, especially in the South Bronx, that makes third world countries look good. And yet they manage to buy us off—us, the larger gay community—by promising us a little bit of this, a little bit of that. … We can’t work through that system the way it stands.
”"
posted by VikingSword at 11:55 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I needed a story like this today to remind me to keep up the struggle and resistance!
posted by kuppajava at 7:37 AM on June 8, 2012


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